Report

The 'Zeal of the Convert': Is It the Real Deal?

  • October 29, 2009

A common perception about individuals who switch religions is that they are very fervent about their new faith. A new analysis by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life provides quantitative support for this piece of conventional wisdom often referred to as the "zeal of the convert." The analysis finds that people who have switched faiths (or joined a faith after being raised unaffiliated with a religion) are indeed slightly more religious than those who have remained in their childhood faith, as measured by the importance of religion in their lives, frequency with which they attend religious services and other measures of religious commitment. However, the analysis also finds that the differences in religious commitment between converts and nonconverts are generally very small and are more apparent among some religious groups than others.

One of the most striking findings of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted by the Pew Forum in 2007, was the large number of people who have left their childhood faith. According to the survey, roughly half of all Americans say they have left the faith in which they were raised to adopt another faith or no faith at all, or if they were not raised in a religion, they have since joined one.

The new analysis finds that, overall, people who have switched religions consistently exhibit higher levels of religious commitment than those who still belong to their childhood faith, but the differences are relatively modest. For example, among people currently affiliated with a religion.

Read the full analysis The “Zeal of the Convert”: Is It the Real Deal? on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life's Web site.